I was reading Jack Kerouac’s The Town and the City on a rainy afternoon in Florence when I fell in love with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter.
That sentence looks as strange as it sounds, but every word of it is absolutely true.
My travel buddy and I had set out for a month long trek across Europe the summer of 2002. Starting from London, we student hostel-ed our way to Prague and back, with many a mad mishap along the way. The least of which was a freak flooding of Eastern Europe. We were in Italy at the time, gorging ourselves on Gelato and the Renaissance art museums of Florence (the 3-hour queue for the Ufizzi was worth every second) when the treacherous weather manifested itself in our Western corner of the continent. No, Italy was not flooded, but the weather was absolutely, positively off its bloody rocker. We were deluged on an otherwise beautiful afternoon, forced to retreat to our hotel room to stay there until the skies cleared.
Quarantined in our quarters, we happily retreated into books. I had laughed at my friend for purchasing a set of Harry Potter books at a Bloomsbury bookshop the week before, thinking her laughably foolish for wasting 30 pounds on a set of books she already owned– just so she could have what she referred to as the “British illustrations.” And so we settled into a silent war of words: her with her JK Rowling, me with my Jack Kerouac. The Town and the City.
I flipped my pages proudly, determined to enjoy his words more than hers. It was, in my uninformed mind, art versus pop trash. But drinking in Kerouac’s delicious stream of consciousness, which I simply worship, drove me to distraction that afternoon.
Maybe it was the deafening beat of rain on the window. But it was more likely my friend’s frequent bursts of laughter. Ooohs. Ahhhs. And the unnerving gasps. Beautiful as Jack’s prose was, it was certainly not eliciting such … excitement.
But I’d spent the better of two weeks deriding my friend for her “childish” fascinations. How could I admit the fact that I wanted nothing more than to be let in on the whole thing.
The rain wasn’t letting up.
I threw Kerouac on the bed, stood up and said “You win. Hand ‘em over.”
So she did.
And that was it.
By the time we reached Venice, I was not so much concerned with the song our Gondolier sang as he floated us down the canals, but rather WHY the hell Harry could understand Parseltongue, and what it all had to do with Godric Gryffindor!
Two years later, and two fan-fics later (yes, I wrote them– and to my horror, they’re still where I left them at FictionAlley) I was was amongst the proudly post-pubescent people in the queue out front of Waterstone’s on Chiswick High Street, waiting midnight for the release of HP5.
Riding the tube to work that week was heavenly. Designer three-piece suited City brokers and Minolo-heeled West-End girls and impoverished college students (yours truly) all sharing a delicious, unspoken solidarity by reading Book Five every morning on the train.
Regarding the film franchise, of which I am deeply fond, I was initially fanatically critical. Citing references and quoting text directly refuting the plot … thankfully, I was introduced to extra-strength chill pills. The films may be uneven, yes, but the less linear they became, the more the spirit of Rowling’s magical story became flesh and blood. (The Prisoner of Azkaban was my object lesson. Bless your socks, Alfonso Cuaron. The whole Steampunk-Goth thing totally rocked.)
Even though Rowling’s final installment is now going on three years old, the film franchise (the most profitable in film history) has only just faded to black. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, as we’ve watched them grow up before our eyes. Trust me: When watching The Chamber of Secrets at the local multiplex, it was the last thing imaginable that I would one day see the same star in Peter Schaeffer’s West End revival of Equus. (THAT is another post altogether. Actually… another blog altogether.)
But in the words of Rowling, the ones we love never really leave us– and so this end is, at the same time, rather exciting. Time is the friend of all truly great works of art.
And I’ve the sneaky suspicion that time will most definitely be on the side of Harry.
There will always be instant sensations (um, Twilight anyone?) but how often do we have, really, legitimate instant classics. Let alone seven of them in a row.
p.s.: I never did finish The Town and the City.
3 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the End of an Era”
What a lovely, lovely post. Like you, I was sceptical about Harry Potter at first, snickering at the people around me constantly raving about the books… Until my aunt dragged me to the cinema to see the first film. First snow of the winter fell on us the minute we stepped out of the cinema. It was a magical moment. And I immediately walked into the nearest bookshop and bought the book. Needless to say, I was completely sold from the first page onwards.
A reply to your question in bracket, erm, NO twilight. It’ll never beat HP. Never. Nice post btw!
Great post! I feel like reading the whole series again… it does make you ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and gasp.